F.A. Cup 5th Round Preview

Who'll Get Their Hands on it This Year?

The Premier League is put on hold this weekend as the F.A. Cup 5th Round takes centre stage. Britain’s best loved cup competition is down to the last 16 and some fascinating ties lie in store, as teams from the lower tiers of English football prepare to do battle with more illustrious opposition, in the hope of causing an upset by making it to the quarter finals. Here is a brief preview of the ties ahead.

Chelsea host Birmingham City at Stamford Bridge in Saturday’s early kick-off. Andre Villas Boas will be desperate for the London Blues to progress at Birmingham’s expense, the Chelsea boss will be hoping that his team can put poor league form to one side and get back to winning ways against Chris Hughton’s side. City are the form team in the Championship at the moment, and are unbeaten in their last 13 games in all competitions, winning 8 and drawing 5. Although their away league form has been a little suspect, City have knocked Wolves and Sheffield United out of the Cup already this season, both away from home. Having said that, Chelsea will be firm favourites to go through, and will be boosted by Drogba’s return from African Nations Cup duty, although the pressure will be on them as anything less than victory could spell serious trouble for Villas Boas’ future at the club. This tie has the potential for upset, given Chelsea’s patchy form and Birmingham’s great run, it certainly won’t be an easy ride for the Londoners, and the Brummies could sneak it. A draw, however, is a more likely result.

Everton entertain Blackpool on Saturday in another Premier League vs Championship encounter. The Toffees won’t be expecting an easy time when the Tangerines come to town, however, they are in the midst of a good run of results at Goodison in the league. The additions of Landon Donovan and Steven Pienaar, have added legs and creativity in the midfield, and the acquisition of Jelavic should give them renewed potency in attack, although the Croatian is doubtful for the game (muscle strain). The Seasiders on the other hand have put together a marvellous run of their own in their push up the league table. Beaten just once in 15 games, in all competitions, stretching back to the beginning of December, their away form has improved dramatically too, winning four of their last five. This another tough one to call; if Everton are at their best I’d expect them to have enough to go through, however, if they drop their level at all, Ian Holloway’s men are more than capable of seeing them off.

Arsenal travel to Sunderland on Saturday evening in a repeat of last week’s Premier League match. The Gunners won that meeting thanks to an injury time goal from Thierry Henry, but Martin O’Neill’s men will be keen to gain revenge for that indignity, against Wenger’s Henry-less Arsenal in the Cup this weekend. The Stadium of Light has witnessed a remarkable reversal of fortunes for their team since the Northern Irishman took the helm, losing just twice in 12 games, including victories over Man. City and Spurs, and the home fans will believe that they can repeat the feat against Arsenal. Wenger’s men are reeling from a resounding 0-4 defeat in against Milan on Wednesday, a result which effectively ended their participation in Europe, and they will be absolutely desperate not to go out of the F.A. Cup in the same week. There are question marks over the Gunners’ psychological strength, and their ability to bounce back from defeat quickly will be under scrutiny again, with the Black Cats waiting to pounce on any fragility displayed. Another finely balanced tie, I have a little fancy for Sunderland though.

Stevenage welcome Tottenham on Sunday as the second lowest placed side left in the competition looks to oust one of the hot favourites. The League One outfit currently sit 6th in the table and have won 6 of their last 8 in all competitons, including an away win at in form Reading in Round 4. Boro go into this fixture with absolutely nothing to lose, and will be keen to pit their wits against top class opponents. It is undoubtedly the biggest game of their season so far and, as such, they’ll be right up for it. Spurs are flying, currently 3rd in the Premier League, they destroyed 6th place Newcastle 5-0 at home last week. With the quality that they possess, I wouldn’t expect  Tottenham  to have too many problems against lesser opposition, and Harry Redknapp will be keen to put the tie to bed, avoiding any potential replay.

Stoke City travel to Crawley Town on Sunday as the Premier League outfit look to put an end to their awful, recent sequence of results. The Potters have lost their last 6 games in a row and have managed just two goals during that time. Crawley are on a remarkable run themselves, the League 2 side have lost just twice in 24 matches dating back to September 17th, winning on 16 occasions. However, both the defeats came at home, and the second one came last week when they were roundly beaten 0-3 by, Paolo di Canio’s, Swindon.  There is a slight possibility of an upset in this tie, Stoke’s form is awful, and they have really struggled to score goals of late, especially away from home. They did however come through a tricky away tie with Derby in the last round, and should have enough to go through here. Crawley though, will play with no fear, it is their Cup Final on Sunday, and they’ll be hoping that they can really give their fans something to cheer about by at least taking the tie to a replay.

Norwich City take on Leicester at Carrow Road on Saturday, and will fancy their chances of making it to the quarter finals. The Canaries, under Paul Lambert, have had a fantastic first season in the Premier League and won’t be phased by Championship opposition, having just graduated from that division. Norwich have won 6 of their last 9 games in all competitions, losing only once in that time, and their strong home record should see them through. Leicester, by contrast, have only won 1 of their last 4 games, and their away record in the league is poor, having won just four times on the road this season. If Norwich play with 100% commitment, which they tend to do, I don’t give Leicester too much hope.

Millwall’s last gasp victory in their 4th Round replay at St. Mary’s has set up a home tie against Premier League strugglers Bolton. The Lions are unbeaten in their last three, and their form at the New Den is solid, they’ll be hoping that the home crowd and their opponents’ woes will help them into the quarter finals. The priority for Bolton this season is Premier League survival, so, will this weekend provide a welcome break or an unwanted distraction? Wanderers’ have had a poor season, and could use a good cup run to restore player confidence, and, get themselves going in the final push to avoid relegation. Millwall will fancy their chances at home though, and, given their indifferent league form, will be all too happy to usher in the escape that the F.A. Cup provides. This is another nail-biter; I’m gonna say a draw.

Finally, Sunday’s evening kick-off sees Brighton and Hove Albion travel to Anfield for what will be their second game of the season against Kenny Dalglish’s Liverpool. The Reds beat the Albion 1-2 at the Amex in the Carling Cup earlier this season, and the Premier League club are firm favourites to triumph again on Sunday. Although Liverpool’s league form has been less than inspiring of late, with just one win in the last 6, their Cup form has been excellent, and they are still unbeaten at Anfield this season. Albion, under Poyet, have had a decent season so far, sitting in 9th position in the Championship, Brighton are unbeaten in their last 10 in all competitions, and knocked out Newcastle at the Amex in the last round. This will be, by no means,  an easy tie for Liverpool as the Albion are in great form, the Premier League club will need to be at their best to progress. However, should Kenny Dalglish’s men play to their potential, they will be too strong for Championship opposition.

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